Sunday, July 21, 2019

2019 Bratislava Pride, Slovakia

Yesterday was the 9th annual Rainbow Pride in Bratislava.  I originally planned to go Friday and spend the whole weekend but I've got so much going on that I decided to just go for the day.

Last year I helped staff the IBM booth during the parade.  There wasn't booth this year so I participated in the parade.  In the USA, when you go to the pride parade it's to watch the parade.  Here, you are the parade.

The American embassy supporting Pride
This year's event was attended by around 10 000 people including the city's mayor and the public defender of rights.

In protest, there was another march by the Proud of the Family.  I hear that only a few hundred people showed up for that.

What was impressive about this year is that many of the foreign embassies came together for a joint statement of support.  The following embassies signed:

Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States, Uruguay, and the Representation of the European Commission in Slovakia.

It was a nice day.  Now looking forward to this year's Prague Pride.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

2019 Sustainable Development Report

The results of the 2019 Sustainable Development Report are in and Czechland is ranked as the world's 7th most developed country.

This is a UN initiative, in its fourth year, that looks at 17 key criteria for sustainable development.  Some of the criteria include eliminating poverty and hunger, establishing quality education, access to clean water and sanitation, and promoting responsible consumption and production.

The report ranked 162 countries and the top 10 are all in Europe, with Scandinavian countries ranked the highest.

  1. Denmark
  2. Sweden
  3. Finland
  4. France
  5. Austria
  6. Germany
  7. Czech Republic
  8. Norway
  9. Netherlands
  10. Estonia
New Zealand came in 11th and is the highest ranked non-European country.  The USA came in 35th.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

New Czech UNESCO Sites

UNESCO has added seven new cultural sites to the World Heritage list.  Two of of the seven are in Czechland bringing the total here up to 14 sites.

The Erzgebirge / Krušnohoří Mining Region spans across northwest Czech Republic and southeastern Germany.  The Krušné hora mountains, the Ore Mountains, were the most important source of silver ore in Europe from 1460 to 1560.  The region became a global producer of uranium at the end of the 19th century.  The German side has 17 locations while the Czech side has five locations.

The second site is the Landscape for Breeding and Training of Ceremonial Carriage Horses at Kladruby nad Labem.  It is located in the Střední Polabí area of the Labe plain.  A horse farm was established in 1563 and gained imperial status in 1579.  Today it is home to around 500 horses and is one of Europe's leading horse-breeding institutions.

Who knew that Czechland was renowned for horse breeding?
Looks like there are two new destinations to add to my Czech sightseeing bucket list.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

SE Asia Trip Report

Well my trip to Southeast Asia was fun. A bit of a whirlwind for a 10 day trip but still a good time.  Malaysia, specifically Kuala Lumpur, had been on my bucket list for about 20 years.












I enjoyed KL, even with a bit of rain.  However, the best part of my KL adventure was getting a chance to meet up with Jessica, Dharma, Kartik, and LikMin.

The Bantu Caves were a great little day trip.  Plus I got to see the monkeys there.








I enjoy Malaysian food but honestly the best thing I found was brown sugar bubble tea.  I miss proper bubble tea with the tapioca balls.  The bubble tea I've found in Czechland just sucks.  Anyway, this was proper bubble tea with rich brown sugar tapioca pearls.  So yummy.

After a few short days in KL I headed to Brunei which all of my friends thought I was insane to go visit given the recent uproar about imposing the death penalty for homosexuals.  However, it was kind of ironic that I when I got to Bandar Seri Begawan that there was a big gay rainbow.

Natalie was "in the area" so she flew in and we met up in Bandar.  You've got to love random godparent meet-up adventures.  It's always so awesome getting some Nat time.  The last time I saw her was in March when we went to Malmö and Copenhagen.  

Bandar was interesting.  One day was definitely enough to get the feel for the place.  Honestly the company made this a way better visit.  Then we flew to Singapore which I think might be the 9th or 10th country we've visited together.

One thing to note about Brunei and Singapore is that both countries are tough on illegal drugs.  On the arrival cards for both countries there are warnings that drug trafficking will result in the death penalty.



From Singapore, Nat and I caught the train to Johor Bahru for day trip.  On Tuesday night Nat caught her flight back home to Wellington.



On Wednesday I did a bit of sightseeing down at the marina and in Chinatown.  I also finally got to try chilli crab.



On Thursday I caught a high-speed ferry and went to Batam for the day.  My first time in Indonesia.  It was interesting and the highlight of the day was visiting the former Vietnamese refugee centre.  I swear that sometimes I visit some of the most random sights but it's always an adventure.

Although it was a fast trip I managed to pack in quite a lot.  I definitely want to go back to Malaysia and Indonesia.  If only it wasn't a 13ish hour flight from Euroland.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Batam, Indonesia

The Riau Islands are an Indonesian archipelago about 19 km (12 miles) south of Singapore.  The three main islands are Batam, Rempang and Galang.  These three are collectively called Barelang and there are a few other small islands.

Batam is the largest city with a population over 1,2 million people.  It is part of a free trade zone and is the second most popular tourist destination in Indonesia.





On Friday I took a 45 minute ferry ride from Singapore to Batam.






The Barelang Bridge is the only bridge in Batam that connects it to the other nearby islands.

It actually consists of six different bridges and stretches 2,25 kilometres (1,4 miles).



Bridge I is the Teuku Fisabilillah Bridge connecting Batam Island and Tonton Island.  It is 642 metres long and resembles San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge.  It's a popular spot to take photos.




From Batam it takes about 40 minutes to get to the Galang Refugee Camp.  It operated from 1979 to 1996 and about 250,000 refugees passed through it.

The 80-hectare (about 200 acre) facility was a UN High Commission for Refugees camp that helped Vietnamese Bota People and asylum seekers with temporary accommodation until they were resettled in the USA, Japan, Canada, Brazil, Australia and some European countries.

Facilities included camps, churches, hospitals and schools.  Today the camp is a museum and about 6.000 visit every month.  Many visitors were once housed in the camp before being relocated elsewhere.



Dragon fruit is local to Batam and after riding around the islands for a while there was a quick stop for a dragon fruit juice.  Quite refreshing.



The Maha Vihara Duta Maitreya Buddhist Temple is the biggest Buddhist temple in Indonesia.  Supposedly in all of Southeast Asia.




Batam made for an interesting day trip.  Though I think it is much more popular as a cheap holiday getaway.



Update:  March 2020 - The Vietnamese refugee camp on Galang Island is now closed to tourists.  The government has built a hospital there for COVID-19 patients.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Back in Singapore

After dinner on Tuesday night at Lau Pa Sat, Nat headed off to the airport which meant I was on my own in Singapore for a couple of days.  Nothing to worry about though.  It's not like I can't go a few days without getting into trouble.

It's been almost three years since I was last in Singapore.  I was impressed with how much I remembered about getting around.




I spent most of Wednesday walking around the marina.  It doesn't count as a visit unless you see the Merlion.

Though my favourite part of the city is Chinatown.  Especially the hawker centres the best food ever.



One dish I hadn't had before was "chili crab" so I made sure to try it this time.  It's one of the country's national dishes.  A whole mud crab is stir-fried in a thick, tomato and chili sauce.  It's not spicy at all.  More slightly sweet and savoury.  Delicious but oh so messy.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Lau Pa Sat, Singapore

After our day trip to Johor Bahru, Natalie and I went out to dinner in Singapore before she had to leave for the airport to head back to Wellington.

We decided to grab dinner at Lau Pa Sat which translates to "Old Market".  It opened as Telok Ayer Market in 1824 as a fish market.  It was rebuilt in 1838 and moved to its current location in downtown Singapore's financial district in 1894.



It's basically a food court in one of South-East Asia's oldest Victorian structures.  In 1973 it became a Singapore national monument.



Lau Pa Sat is open 24/7.  It is 5500 square metres and sits 2000 people inside.  After 7 pm (or 3 pm on weekends and holidays) the adjacent area opens up with about a dozen outdoor stalls, fold-out tables and plastic chairs.  The outdoor area keeps going until 3 am.

It's a must-do if you want some excellent satay.  Most items start around 5 Singapore dollars (€3,20).
We went with chicken, beef, and prawn satay.  Quite tasty and it's a good thing that I've lost 17 kg (37,5 lbs) because all of the food today has been awesome. 

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Johor Bahru, Malaysia

On Tuesday evening, Nat and I flew from Bandar Seri Begawan to Singapore.  On Wednesday morning we got up early for a day trip to Johor Bahru.

Johor Bahru sits on the Straits of Johor and it is the southernmost city in the Malay Peninsula.  It was originally founded as Tanjung Puteri in 1855, gaining city status in 1994.  With 497 000 people it is the 9th biggest city in Malaysia.  There are more than 1,6 million people in the greater metro area making it the country's second-largest metropolitan area behind Kuala Lumpur.

The causeway between Singapore and Johor Bahru was completed in 1923.  The train ride between the two cities only takes five minutes.

What can take a while is going through customs and immigration leaving one country and entering the other.

The JB Sentral train station is connected via an overhead bridge to the City Square Mall.  Our first stop was a Din Tai Fung for an early lunch.  The Michelin-star awarded Taiwanese-based restaurant chain is famous for it's Xiao Long Bao - soup dumplings.

The first step is to pour 1 part soy sauce and 3 parts vinegar in a dish with fresh ginger.  Using chopsticks, dip a dumpling into the mixture and then place it in a soup spoon.  Poke a small hole in the dumpling to release the broth inside.  Then enjoy.  Absolutely delicious!

Then it was off to explore the city.


The Arulmigu Rajamariamman Devasthanam temple is one of the oldest Hindu temples in the city.  It was built in 1911.  The temple honours the Goddess Mariamman, the deity of fertility and rain.




The Gurdwara Sahib Sikh temple was built in 1921.





Masjid India is the main place of worship for the city's Indian Muslim population.

The four-storey Tiong Hua Chinese Heritage Museum was recently renovated.  Chinese first came to this area in the 14th century.  

The Old Chinese Temple was built in the 19th century.  The temple symbolises unity as it hosts five deities from five different Chinese dialect groups - Hokkien, Cantonese, Hainan, Teochew, and Hakka.



The Sultan Ibrahim Building was built in 1940 as the secretariat building for the British colonial government.




The Old Railway Station was built in 1932 but closed in 2010 when the Sentral station was built.  The old station is supposed to be used as a museum in the future.




The Kilometre Zero marker is located in front of the General Post Office.  It is one of the few markers in the world where the national zero marker isn't found in the national capital.